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Have you seen today’s Google Doodle of Zitkála-Šá? Here are some connections she has to Utah and BYU you might not know about

by | Feb. 22, 2021

The Google Doodle for the day is in honor of Zitkála-Šá’s 145th birthday. Known for being an accomplished writer, violinist, and lecturer, Google wrote that Zitkála-Šá was a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota who “devoted her life to the protection and celebration of her Indigenous heritage through the arts and activism.” But did you know that Zitkála-Šá also had connections to Utah and even to Brigham Young University?

In July 2020, LDS Living published a feature by contributor Diana Douglas about how women in Utah led the national charge for women’s rights. Zitkála-Šá, who lived on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation in Utah for 14 years, was one of those influential women.

“One of her greatest legacies was helping European Americans acknowledge the beauty and richness of native peoples’ cultures through essays, speeches, and even an original opera. Working with a musician at Brigham Young University, Zitkála-Šá wrote The Sun Dance Opera based on a Lakota-Sioux religious ritual. The opera was performed in Utah with local Ute tribal members,” Douglas wrote.

Zitkála-Šá wrote both the libretto and songs for the opera, which was completed in 1913. According to the National Parks Service, the work was the first Native American opera ever written and “it is a symbol of how Zitkála-Šá lived in and bridged both her traditional Native American world and the world of white America that she was raised in.”

Those bridges are also evident in Zitkála-Šá’s political achievements. She sought full citizenship for native people—which came about in 1924 with the Indian Citizenship Act—and was a vital influence in the passage of other historic legislation.

Today’s Google Doodle is by artist Chris Pappan, who is of Osage, Kaw, Cheyenne River Sioux, and European heritage. He shared details of what inspired him in the creation of this art.

“All of the elements in the artwork relate to Zitkála-Šá 's life in some way. Her Lakota name translates as ‘Red Bird,’ she wrote an opera relating to the Sun Dance, and she was an accomplished musician—all reflected within the Doodle. She also witnessed great upheaval and change throughout her life, as symbolized by the tipis. The lettering for ‘Google’ is based on a beadwork design from one of her traditional dresses.”

The LDS Living article also quotes Zitkála-Šá’s words from an oratory competition during her college years. The words demonstrate her connections to both her people and the nation she petitioned for rights.

“We come from mountain fastness, from cheerless plains, from far-off low-wooded streams, [ . . . ] that we may stand side by side with you in ascribing honor to our nation’s flag,” she said. “America, I love thee.”

Learn more about Zitkála-Šá at Google.

Featured image: Twitter screenshot, Image of Zitkála-Šá: Wikimedia Commons
Danielle christensen

Danielle Christensen

Danielle is a features writer and editor for LDS Living. Previously, she served as web producer for Church News, where she managed their website and social media platforms. Danielle is a graduate of Brigham Young University in English and has been published with Deseret News, Church News, BYU Magazine, and Spires Intercollegiate Arts and Literary Magazine. Follow her on Twitter with the handle @danielleechris.

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